Landmark legislation with major implications for public health reached a critical point Tuesday as the U.S. Senate began voting on the future of the farm bill, which governs the nation’s food and agricultural policies.
The current farm bill was approved in 2008, and according to an APHA issue brief released this week entitled, “The Farm Bill and Public Health: A Primer for Public Health Professionals,” nutrition programs funded by the bill have had historic increases in the number of participants due to prolonged economic downturn and expanded eligibility.
Nutrition assistance programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — which aids people with low incomes, children and the elderly — comprise 65 percent of the funding for the current bill and are a hot-button topic of this week’s Senate debates.
“The number of low-income Americans who rely on SNAP every day to feed their families has quickly burgeoned to 49 million, as a result of the recession,” said Georges Benjamin, executive director of APHA. “Now is not the time to cut a projected $4.49 billion from this urgently needed program that so many households across the country depend on for assistance.”
APHA’s primer calls the farm bill, the nation’s largest source of food assistance funding for needy families, a vital contributor to public health. SNAP served an all-time high of nearly 45 million Americans in 2011, roughly one in seven people.
The brief provides a summary of the major components of the farm bill and their connections to public health, including policies for all 15 sections of the 2008 legislation, current funding and its role in providing basic food and nutrition assistance to Americans. It also identifies four key ways in which the bill both can be improved and will improve the public’s health, by:
- Providing food and nutrition assistance;
- Producing healthy, affordable foods;
- Increasing access to healthy foods; and
- Fostering sustainable food systems.
A full version of APHA’s issue brief can be read here.